The Mitsubishi Challenger LS saved my long-weekend – sounds like a big call, but it’s true. Sure, it probably could have been any vehicle, but when the weather threatened to ruin our Easter camping trip, I was thanking my lucky stars for the Mitsubishi.
It provided a dry, warm haven for the night and for that I was grateful.
Planning a camping trip over the four-day break is always a risk - it's consistently the time of the year that the warm weather turns sour.
Despite keeping my fingers crossed, sure enough at knock-off on Thursday afternoon, the excitement of hooking up the Sea-Doo’ trailer to the Challenger’s towball turned to trepidation as the sky darkened.
There was no way the trip was being cancelled. At the very least, a dent had to be made in the stockpile of Spam, dehydrated peas and Deb - a delectable meal that is best enjoyed while relaxing around a campfire.
This simple pleasure was beginning to look like it would be a challenge to bring to reality.
The showers were so fine the air was misty, my daughter and I persevered with getting our gear organised and loaded up the Challenger.
Before we knew it, the luggage area was laden with everything we could possibly need - an Esky, plenty of drinks, food, a few clothes, wood for the fire, fishing rods, lifejackets for the Sea-Doo, a marquee, camping chairs, gum boots - all while keeping the back row in place for my daughter and her friend.
After an early rise on Friday morning and a last-minute check that we had everything, we hit the road headed for Greenman's Valley on the Hawkesbury River.
Two 13-year-old girls were in the backseat, loaded with pillows, blankets, snacks and CDs to 'make the trip comfortable'.
All the basic media options are catered for in the Challenger; AM/FM radio, CD and MP3 player, as well as an audio input jack, USB port, iPod control, Bluetooth and phone connectivity with audio streaming and voice control.
A 6.1-inch colour touchscreen comes as standard, though you can option up to a 7-inch screen with satellite navigation.
The Challenger is a large SUV and it was surprisingly enjoyable to drive, it feels rustic and unbreakable.
Under the bonnet, there’s a 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine, unlike the Challenger 4WD, the Challenger LS 4WD is only available with a five-speed automatic transmission producing 131kW at 4,000rpm and 350Nm at 1,800rpm.
Cruising along the highway out of town, using the paddle shifters, it occurred to me that the weight of the Sea-Doo was having no noticeable bearing on the performance of the Challenger.
Weighing in at under 500kg on the trailer, it's no wonder. The Mitsubishi has a three-tonne braked towing capacity, or 750kg un-braked.
The cabin was comfortable, despite being chock-full of necessary - and some unnecessary - camping paraphernalia.
The LS gets leather touches including the steering wheel, handbrake and low range transfer lever. The front driver and passenger seats are both electrically adjustable. The unsung hero of the journey were the rain sensing wipers. Boy, did we need them.
The precipitation increased steadily throughout the drive, and our convoy stopped at the top of the valley to discuss whether or not to go ahead with the trip.
The excitement had waned compared to barely two-hours earlier, and the result of the powwow was a considerably less resounding 'yes, let's continue'.
Our convoy headed down the hill to the campground, tackling the steep, long, windy track that was slippery and peppered with potholes. Slow and steady was the way to go, with the Sea-Doo bumping about behind the Challenger.
Setting up camp in the rain was an interesting experience. The race was on to get the tents up, and every tarp was used to create an open plan living area.
One of the other members of the group was driving an older Challenger and both were utilised as windbreaks and anchor points for the ropes attached to the tarps.
Fending off blood-sucking leaches, we then headed to the river to go fishing. It was a short-lived adventure.
I hooked three catfish in quick succession and then my daughter nabbed a fourth. Unfortunately for one of my fellow campers, getting the slippery sucker off the end of the line ended in tears.
Catfish stings are incredibly painful, and the poor bloke spent the rest of the afternoon and all night curled in the foetal position, moaning in agony.
The comedy of errors continued. Arriving back at the campsite we discovered the large tent was leaking so the race was on to set up some smaller two-man tents.
With the rain getting heavier by the minute, I decided to set my daughter and I up for the night in the back of the Challenger.
The rear seats are a 60:40 split fold design and tuck down flat, allowing enough room for me at 5'8" to sleep stretched out.
After a warm and comfortable night, we woke and climbed out of the boot to find the camp packed up and everyone waiting in the pouring rain, ready to leave.
There was a couple of inches of water on the ground, no way to get the campfire going again and even more rain predicted that day.
We headed back home wondering what to do with the rest of the weekend; we still had the Sea-Doo and were hoping for enough of a reprieve to get out on the water.
Easter Sunday came and went, and mercifully the clouds cleared Monday so, Sea-Doo in tow, we headed to Pittwater with the two girls and a friend.
It was my first time backing the small trailer down a boat ramp without an expert around - my friend helped direct but it was tricky. The side mirrors were pretty useless because the trailer is so narrow, but the reversing camera came in handy.
With its chrome door mirrors and handles, fog lamps and 17-inch alloys, the Challenger looked right at home among the crowds of SUVs and utes lining up at the ramp.
After putting in a few hours on the water, we raced back to the ramp as the storm clouds rolled in again.